Northern Nevada, sometimes known as “Cowboy Country,” is an amazingly beautiful section of the state that often isn’t showcased as much as Nevada’s more glitzy large cities and southern half. Let’s take a road trip through some northern Nevada towns and attractions to get an idea of what this lovely section of the state has to offer.
Our trip covers 903 miles with a total drive time of about 17 hours and 57 minutes, making it a perfect trip for a 2 or 3 day weekend journey.
1. Carson City
We'll start in the state's capital, which is flush with Nevada history. Historic buildings line the streets and it's the site of the some of the largest Nevada Day celebrations in the state. Carson City is also a hugely popular spot for mountain bikers, as well as hikers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts. It's also a close drive to Lake Tahoe and Virginia City.
2. Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake is the next stop on our journey, with a bit of a detour off our main route. This lake is the largest remnant of Lake Lahontan, which was a huge sea most of the state was under, which is hard to imagine today! The lake is sacred to the Paiute Indian Tribe and is included in their reservation lands. You can get a visitor permit to visit the lake. Popular Pyramid Lake outings including mountain biking and hiking, kayaking and other boating, and fishing is a big deal being that it's the only place in the world you can catch the Cui-ui fish. Nature photographers also love this spot with the lake's greyish blue color and the eerie rock and cliff formations around the shores.
Back on our route and our next location is the city of Lovelock. The city is know for 4 separate "welcome" signs with different themes, and it's also the location for the Lovelock Paiute Tribe reservation. Lovelock brings in tourists each year for its several summer festivals, which include hot air balloon shows, street car fairs, Frontier Days and a celebration of Portuguese culture. Another big tourist attraction is the Lovers Lock Plaza near the court house. Couples come here from all over, particularly on Valentine's Day, to demonstrate their love by adding a padlock to a chain that has become larger with each year.
4. Black Rock Desert
Another side detour off our main route is the Black Rock Desert, which is located near the tiny town of Gerlach. The Black Rock Desert is known for the massive Burning Man Festival that happens annually. This vast flat area was once part of the lake bed for Lake Lahontan and there are many volcanic geologic formations in the area as well. One popular attraction is the Fly Geyser, which is actually man-made and caused by an accident with some well drilling. The geyser is on private land although it has recently been purchased by the Burning Man Festival so viewing it perhaps may become easier in the future. The desert area is a very popular spot for nature photographers, primitive campers, and ATVs. It's also used often for rocket and land speed testing by researchers and scientists.
Winnemucca is the site of an annual Basque Festival, due to the heavy influence of Basque immigrants during the town's early formation. If you love learning about state history, Winnemucca's Humboldt Museum is a real find. The museum has man exhibits on early life in the town for miners, ranchers and settlers. There are many historical buildings in town - one excellent choice to visit is the Martin Hotel, which is now a delicious Basque restaurant.
Orovada is another rustic and tiny Nevada town that lies by the Santa Rosa mountain range. The range covers about 280,000 acres and contains several elevated cliffs with high altitudes. If you enjoy hiking, climbing and camping in a what will feel like a mostly untouched wilderness, this is the spot for you!
7. Battle Mountain
Battle Mountain is another small town that is known historically for fighting between two Native American tribes, the Shoshone and Northern Paiutes. The town still has active gold and silver mines to this day and this serves as the main source for its economy, along with gaming. There are ghost towns you can visit nearby, such as Galena (pictured above). Battle Mountain was also voted "Armpit of America in the Washington Post in 2011 and the town created an annual festival with the name for several years that was actually funded through the Old Spice company. Battle Mountain also hosts an annual bike race each year called the "World Human Powered Speed Challenge" that draws entries internationally.
We're almost on the other side of the state! Elko is a town that loves cowboy history and it's the site of the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The Western Folklife Center is dedicated to studying and preserving the history of the first settlers and cowboys in Nevada and it's a treat for any U.S. history lover to visit. The city also proudly hosts an annual National Basque Festival. Elko also has several casinos and one of the most well known is the Commercial Casino because of the huge polar bear in their outside sign. This is a replica of White King, the world's largest stuffed polar bear who is on display inside the casino.
Lamoille is a tiny town that puts new meaning in the word picturesque. Most visitors come to Lamoille on their way to visiting the Ruby Mountains, often known as Nevada's "Yosemite." One attraction that's definitely worth a stop is the Little Church of the Crossroads. This Presbyterian church has been tending to its flock since 1872 and still operates to this day. Its old fashioned architecture makes a lovely postcard picture against the backdrop of the Ruby Mountains.
Jarbidge is both a town and a stunningly gorgeous wilderness area that any nature lover should have on their bucket list. Jarbidge, the town, is so remote you can only reach it by driving on unpaved roads. The town has some real personality and there are some lodging and dining options so it and its friendly residents are worth a visit. The Jarbidge Wilderness Area is one of the most remote areas in the state and has a variety of environments, some as low as 5,000 feet and others as high as 10,000 feet, leading to a great diversity of wildlife and scenic opportunities. It's also a very beloved spot for fisherman due to its proximity to the Snake River.
Wells is a small town with a population of about 1,292 (as of 2010 census). A beautiful location to visit by Wells is Angel Lake. This glacial tarn can be reached on State Route 231, a 12-mile scenic road that rides through the Eastern Humboldt mountain range. The area around Angel Lake is very sought after by campers and the in nice weather you can usually find people picnicking around its shores, as well as fisherman and hikers. It also makes for a stunning location for nature photographers.
12. West Wendover
As we pull into our final location, the famous Wendover Will waves hello! This iconic statute can be seen for miles and he's always happy to take a picture with you. West Wendover is very close to the Utah border and like a few other towns in Nevada, observes Mountain time rather than Pacific time because of it's proximity to Utah. Casinos are a popular business in the town, particularly since they draw all traffic from neighboring Utah where gambling is prohibited. It's a good place to settle in after a long journey, enjoy some fun at a casino and a good meal to conclude our trip.
Do you have a favorite spot in northern Nevada to visit? Or one on your bucket list? Post in the comments!